The latest issue of Mining Global carries a piece on General Nice’s plans for the Isua iron mine in Greenland, the rights to which they acquired last December from Ebola-stricken London Mining. In what seem to be the first media comments about their plans for the project, they talk about ongoing work on an “optimisation plan” for the project and a “thorough review [of] its economic value” amid discussions with potential contractors and investors. They are even “reviewing the potential of other projects” in Greenland and elsewhere in the region.
Some of these comments come from none less than Jenny Yang (Yang Jianzhen 杨建珍), whose involvement with the Isua project goes back several years, to her role in promoting it to Chinese investors as London Mining’s represenative in China. Ms Yang is now quoted as vice president of General Nice Development (俊安发展有限公司), the HK-based company that owns the project through a Jersey company. General Nice Development is mostly owned by Group chairman Cai Suixin 蔡穗新 and his father. As I’ve mentioned before, Ms Yang was involved in contacts between General Nice and London Mining related to cooperation related to the latter’s Marampa iron mine in Sierra Leone.
An excursus into iron mining in Sierra Leone might be in order here. After London Mining fell into administration, the Marampa mine ended up being acquired by Romanian-Australian mining entrepreneur Frank Timiș. Marampa isn’t doing particularly well and work at the mine has been suspended amid a dispute with former staff over retirement payments. The Tonkolili iron mine, Sierra Leone’s largest, has meanwhile passed from Timiș’s African Minerals (in administration) into Chinese hands after Shandong Steel (山东钢铁), who already held a minority stake at the project, acquired the remainder of it by taking control of African Minerals. And in Burkina Faso, the Tambao manganese mine, owned by Timiș’s Pan African Minerals, was ordered to halt production while the government reviews the legality of the license, awarded to Pan African after being taken from a General Nice company. (General Nice didn’t take lightly to it and are claiming compensation from the Burkinabe government; I’ve also written on that dispute.) The Tambao mine was also the scene of the kidnapping of a Romanian employee last month, now allegedly held in Mali by a jihadist group.
General Nice’s stated enthusiasm about developing the Greenland mine goes against a climate of skepticism among Chinese industry sources about the economic sense of investing in a large, expensive project with prices this low. Then again, the sheer fact of owning the Isua mine and talking about it might help the company garner support for other investments in the region that might offer better medium-term profitability.
General Nice is unusual among Chinese mining companies in multiple ways. I’ve written about the group’s history in a long-ish background article that I can’t help but keep touting every now and then. Shorter updates also keep popping up.
South Korea’s ambassador to Denmark Ma Young-sam 마영삼 was in Greenland last week in an official visit, during which he met with government ministers charged with foreign affairs, industry and natural resources, as well as with representatives from seafood producer Royal Greenland. There was talk of increasing cooperation in mining and fisheries (Sermitsiaq).
A more urgent concern than such future prospects is surely Korean state-owned miner KORES’ investment in the Qeqertaasaq REE+Nb project. KORES has been exploring at the site in partnership with Greenland’s state-owned NunaMinerals, a company in rather serious financial trouble that filed for bankruptcy. Talking to Greenlandic public broadcaster KNR, Ma said the Koreans are keeping a “close eye” on their country’s first investment in Greenland, since “many other Korean companies want to invest big in Greenland”.
Soon after Ma’s visit, news emerged that NunaMinerals are withdrawing their bankruptcy petition based on optimism about ongoing restructuring talks with Greenland Mining Management (GMM), a new-ish UK company seemingly wholly owned by Patrick Newman, a businessman who has been involved in a number of mining companies with interests in Greenland and elsewhere. GMM are proposing to invest in Nuna with an eye to the latter then making an offer for investment group Worthington, suspended from trading in London in Oct ’14 after an ambitious investment plan attracted regulatory attention as amounting to a reverse takeover. Worthington’s shopping spree included a stake in Greenland Rare Earth Projects (GREP), also led by Mr Newman, who hold an exploration license for the REE+Nb+Ta+U Paatusoq project in southeast Greenland.
South Korean interest in Greenland was displayed rather spectacularly in 2012, when then-president Lee Myung-Bak visited the island. The KORES-Nuna Qeqertaasaq exploration agreement goes back to Lee’s visit.
Ambassador Ma’s visit to Greenland appears to have gone unnoticed by the South Korean press, but Korean attention on the fate of KORES Greenlandic investment has been evidenced by news items on the website of the ministry of foreign affairs and other sources, as I reported a couple of weeks ago.
More attention has been dispensed to Mr Ma’s parallel career as an international ping-pong referee, in which capacity he took part in the ping pong championship in Suzhou, China, some ten days before heading to Greenland. An Chosun article compares him to Bao Zheng 包拯, a Song dynasty judge with a semi-legendary reputation for impartiality and the subject of a number of Chinese TV series that have enjoyed some popularity in South Korea. Ma Young-sam’s diplomatic career began in the Middle East.
An agreement was signed two weeks ago in Beijing between Russian and Chinese companies to build an oil refinery in Aldansky district (Алданский улус) in the south of the Sakha Republic, a Far Eastern Russian region also known as Yakutia. The plant is planned to be have a refining capacity of 2m tonnes of oil per year, making it the fourth largest in Yakutia, and to cost $2bn.
The Chinese investor, Huaqing Housing Holdings (华清安居控股有限公司), is a developer established by a Tsinghua University architecture researc institute, with the backing of train manufacturer CNR (北车), a central SOE, financial institutions including China Development Bank (CDB) and the China Association for the Promotion of Development Financing (CAPDF, 中国开发性金融促进会, a new–ish institution whose top people come from CDB, among them its former and current chairmen Chen Yuan 陈元 and Hu Huaibang 胡怀邦). Huaqing is led by Zhu Chunyu 朱春雨. Besides a couple of projects in China, they claim to be about to build some villas in Dubai. The Beijing meeting also included representatives from oil giant CNPC, so presumably they might also become involved in the project.
On the Russian side we have a local company, Tuymaada-Neft (OAO НК Туймаада-нефть), based in Yakutsk and led by Ivan Makarov, who also chairs Sakhatransneftegaz Сахатранснефтегаз, a gas pipeline operator majority-owned by the Yakutia government, and sits as a deputy at the Il Tumen, the local parliament. Also present in Beijing was Valery Tian Валерий Тян, who besides working for Tuymaada is often involved in contacts between Chinese companies and the local government in his capacity as advisor to the president of the Republic.
The plant will refine oil into fuels to be sold locally. Fuel prices in Yakutia are among the highest in the country.
I have written before about the increasing cooperation between the Russian Far East and specifically Yakutia. The latest example semms to be an agreement between the sport bureaus of Yakutia and Heilongjiang province.